Castro Marques, de Souza add international flavor to Dream

A mere 10 days separate the Dream’s Iziane Castro Marques and Erika de Souza in age. But, on the court, that separation never spans more than a few feet.

The guard-and-center pairing first became teammates more than a decade ago. After competing for the national team in the 2004 Olympic Games, they are mainstays of Brazilian women’s basketball.

Since then, they’ve become a formidable high-low threat for opposing defenses. In the Dream’s inaugural 2008 season, coach Marynell Meadors brought the duo to Atlanta. Off the court, they are an inseparable set of friends.

“Izi will pass the ball where Erika can be successful,” Meadors said. “If Erika can’t get the shot off, she looks for Izi. I don’t care if Izi is on the bench, she’s still looking for Izi.”

Both made their WNBA debuts in 2002 — Castro Marques for the Miami Sol and de Souza for the Los Angeles Sparks. When Castro Marques signed as a free agent with Miami at age 21, she became the league’s youngest rookie that season.

Meadors played an instrumental role in signing Castro Marques to her first professional contract. As director of scouting for the Sol, Meadors was impressed by the young Brazilian’s talent.

“Her agent sent me a tape, and I watched her first crossover,” Meadors said. “I’m going ‘this girl is pretty good,’ so I watched it again, and she was even better.”

When the Sol folded after the 2002 season, Meadors promised herself that if given the chance, she would bring Castro Marques back to her roster. Meadors did just that when she acquired her from the Seattle Storm in the 2008 expansion draft.

“We know each other,” Castro Marques said of her relationship with Meadors. “She knows what to expect from me, and I know what to expect from her.”

The expansion draft allowed Meadors to add de Souza to the Dream roster as well. After a one-year stint with the Sparks, de Souza played for five seasons in Spain before returning to the WNBA in 2007.

Castro Marques and de Souza are the only current Dream players who were part of the team’s original roster.

In the Dream’s second year of existence, Castro Marques and de Souza led the team to its first playoff appearance. One year later, the pair guided the team to the WNBA finals. This season, de Souza grabs a team-high 8.2 rebounds per game, while Castro Marques averages 10.3 points per game.

“We’re so close that I know where she is without even seeing her,” Castro Marques said. “I think when you have a connection like that on a team, it’s very good.”

Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, de Souza played a variety of sports, from volleyball to handball, beginning at a young age. However, she found that she was most passionate about basketball.

“I can put heart into basketball because it’s more emotional,” de Souza said. “People used to say that with my body, I could get better at playing basketball.”

A 6-foot-5-inch build has allowed de Souza to excel in an American game dominated by physical, aggressive play. In Brazil, the preferred tempo of a game is much slower than the fast-paced play featured in the United States. Still, de Souza and Castro Marques developed much of their technique on Brazilian soil.

“I had to learn and adapt to everywhere I’ve been since, but I learned all of my basics in Brazil,” Castro Marques said. “I had had the opportunity to play against great players and mature my game before I came overseas.”

When Castro Marques first came to America to play with the Sol, she spoke no English. Now, she fluently speaks four languages. If de Souza’s interpreter isn’t available after games or practices, Castro Marques fills in.

“To be here in Atlanta with her is special,” de Souza said.